What would you consider good news? When I think of good news, I think about what personally benefits me. I celebrate receiving money because it means I can pay my bills (or buy a new guitar). When someone compliments me after a concert, I rejoice because it validates my efforts. I feel a deep sense of gladness when someone I love receives a healthy diagnosis from the doctor. In my framework, comfort and validation are important to me. If it meets those criteria, I define it as good news.
Knowing how the Christmas story plays out, I wholeheartedly believe the birth of Jesus to be THE GREATEST NEWS ever given to the world. But that’s because I know the end of the story; if I had been in Mary’s shoes on the day she received the angel’s message, I’d hesitate to call it good news. Here’s why: she’s a betrothed virgin in a Jewish culture in which women were at the mercy of men. And technically under the law, premarital sex warranted the punishment of death. For Mary, the good news posed tremendous risk to her reputation and to her life.
Have you ever been the victim of a rumor? Have you ever been judged or misunderstood? Nothing feels worse. Now imagine God sends a message saying, “I bring you good news that will damage your reputation and threaten your life, but don’t be afraid.” I’m not sure I would have responded as bravely as Mary. I probably would have asked God to let the rest of the village in on His plan, to make it public. But that’s not how the story plays out. Mary steps into the story that God chooses to tell, embracing the risk in order to receive the promise. Here’s what the text says:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, ‘How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?’ And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:31-38 KJV
So what would motivate someone to put themselves at risk?
The importance of the cause must outweigh the danger. For Mary, being mother to God Himself was worth any price. She entrusted her sense of identity, her sense of belonging, her sense of safety into the hands of God alone. That was enough for her. Is it enough for us?
As we near the end of the Christmas season, I think it’s healthy to ask: Do we value Jesus? If so, what’s it costing us? Good news is costly.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him. Luke 14:28-29 KJV
What follows are several activities to help identify what you value:
- Next time you get in your car or hop on your bike to run an errand, think about the risk. What dangers do you face in traveling to and fro? What’s so valuable that you would take a risk in order to pursue it?
- What was the last thing you said “no” to because the risk was too great? What made you decide it wasn’t worth it?
- What are the risks you face in following Christ in your current stage of life? Are you shrinking back?
Check back tomorrow for my creative response to this story!
Written by Ben Sadler, © 2015 Benjamin Sadler, All Rights Reserved.